African football: A pawn in the hands of the powerful

HARARE - The most explosive and hard-hitting sports book I have ever read is aptly titled “Foul! The Secret World of Fifa!”

Authored by intrepid British journalist Andrew Jennings, this publication is a damning exposure of Fifa bribery, corruption, vote rigging and ticket scandal.

Foul! is one of the best pieces of investigative journalism you’ll ever come across, indepthly-researched and overflowing with criminating evidence of murky underworld deals and corruption.

One of the characters Jennings brings to the fore is Issa Hayatou, who has just been re-elected as president of the Confederation of African Football (Caf) for a last term.

That Caf, under Hayatou, has enhanced its reputation as a dysfunctional organisation, rotten to the core, is not a secret in African football.

And that Hayatou was re-elected unopposed at the weekend is not an endorsement of his popularity, but only a upshot of a manipulation of the voting process in which only Caf executive committee members can elect the president of the organisation.

Whatever expectations there may have been that the present Caf leadership is capable of offering direction to African football has been put to rest for the past 25 years of the Hayatou regime.

A rather disheartening picture from the weekend’s congress in Morocco was seeing Fifa president Sepp Blatter present the Cameroonian with a special certificate to commemorate his 25 years at the helm of African football.

That Blatter was there, honouring a man who 11 years ago had tried to topple him in a boardroom coup, just shows how the people’s game, sadly, is a pawn in the hands of the powerful.

Hayatou is not a threat to Blatter anymore. But back then, he had been one of five Fifa vice-presidents before the 2002 congress, alongside general secretary Michel Zen-Ruffinen, who asked Blatter to resign, accusing Fifa of “being flawed by general mismanagement, dysfunctions in structures, and financial irregularities.” Zen-Ruffinen had prepared a 222-page dossier.

At the root of Fifa’s problems, Zen-Ruffinen said, was Blatter’s parallel administration.

After confronting Blatter, Hayatou was later quoted saying of the Fifa supremo:

“He looked stunned, quite shocked. But he refused to go and said he was answerable only to the congress,” to which Blatter retorted: “In the beginning, I considered him (Hayatou) to be a fair person. But now, by signing the petition, regarding the proceedings against me and by using some terms in the press that are not right, he has left the area of fair play.”

The coup dismally failed, and Blatter emphatically won the 2002 election, with Hayatou’s continent, Africa, playing a crucial role in handing the Swizz victory.

That Hayatou was resoundingly rejected in his own backyard, and will undoubtedly still face the same humiliating defeat today if such kind of situation presents itself again, is a sad indictment of those powerful men on the Caf executive committee who still entrust the fate of African football to this much maligned man.

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